Wyoming has been one the most vaccine-resistant states, behind only West Virginia, and as a result one of the highest COVID-19 rates in the U.S. over the past couple months. The vast majority, about 84%, of those filling Wyoming hospitals with record numbers of COVID-19 patients have not been fully vaccinated, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. Photo: Liz Putnam

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming state senators on Friday voted down the last special legislative session bill they had written to counter President Joe Biden’s plans to require COVID-19 vaccinations, one that would have prohibited discrimination against business customers and others based on their vaccination status.

The special session begun Tuesday in response to the federal plans will continue Monday, however, when senators plan to take up a House bill to bar employers from considering vaccination status in hiring decisions. The measure cleared the House 38-20 on Friday.

The Senate will also consider a bill that would give Gov. Mark Gordon’s office $1 million to fight the Biden administration vaccine requirements for certain federal, health care and other private-sector employees, and prohibit enforcement of the requirements in Wyoming. That bill passed the House 41-14 on Friday.
With no more legislation related to COVID-19 immediately left to consider, the House adjourned until Wednesday.

Gordon announced Friday that Wyoming will join nine other Republican-led states in litigation to fight a vaccine requirement for federal contractors.

“We are committed to defend the interests of Wyoming’s people and protect them from further federal intrusion into our lives,” Gordon said in a statement.

Gordon has expressed wariness, though, about fighting federal mandates with state ones. Similar concerns Friday killed the only remaining COVID-19-related bill originating in the Senate, on a 15-13 vote.

Lawmakers worried that prohibiting discrimination based on a person’s vaccination status would have unforeseen and unintended consequences for businesses.

“We now have a bill in front of us that has zero impact on the president, it has zero impact on his mandates, zero impact on his overreach. But it has a huge impact on Wyoming businesses. We are about to create another protected class,” said Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan.

The bill would open the way for “still more ways to sue” businesses, Kinskey added, calling it “a lawyer’s field day.”

Lawmakers aren’t fully aware of how the bill could play out, said Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas.

“I think we need a sledgehammer. This is a wrecking ball. A wrecking ball we don’t exactly know where exactly it’s going to hit,” Boner said.

Supporters included Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, who said the bill is indeed “about discrimination.”

“You’re not going to be a criminal if you treat people fairly, and I think most businesses in Wyoming already do that,” Steinmetz said.

The session’s scope was much reduced from its outset earlier in the week, when lawmakers were set to consider 20 bills — 40 counting mirror versions in the opposite chamber. Legislative leaders have sought to keep the special session focused and allowed only a handful to proceed, however.

The special session’s tenor hasn’t always been always cordial.

State Rep. Steve Harshman, a former speaker of the House, publicly apologized Friday after being caught Thursday cursing about Rep. Chuck Gray, who like Harshman is a Republican from Casper.

Harshman, who was participating remotely using Zoom, apparently was unaware his microphone was on , the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, revoked Harshman’s privileges to participate remotely Friday while representatives reviewed rules for potentially censuring Harshman.